Planning decision delays continue due to staff shortage at St Albans council

Planning delays continue

Planning delays continue - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Consultants are still being used to tackle a backlog of planning applications as a shortage of staff at the district council means delayed decisions continue.

The problem was raised at a recent St Albans council cabinet meeting, where figures showed that the overall percentage of planning decisions meeting deadline had dropped from 71 to 67 per cent over a 12-month period since last October.

It is well known that St Albans has among the largest number of applications in the country.

And four months ago, the Herts Advertiser revealed that St Albans district council was engaging an external firm to process schemes and keep pace with demand as there was not enough staff to cope.

The decline in performance prompted Cllr Chris White to ask cabinet whether councillors were confident additional staff would help the authority meet its decision target in the next quarter.

Chairman, Cllr Julian Daly, replied: “We have had a blitz on to shift some of the older [schemes]. What I’m concerned about is our ability to recruit the right quality of planners.”

He said that although cabinet had approved funding for hiring more staff to clear the backlog and meet scheme determination targets, “getting the right people is an issue.

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“It may take longer to settle the whole thing down than we would hope.”

Cllr Daly said that other local authorities were suffering similar problems.

According to a council report, for the calendar year so far - January 1 to October 31 - there were 160 more planning applications received, and 177 more decisions made than the same time last year.

While there were 270 schemes lodged in September this year, that figure jumped to 308 in October.

The issue of planning and building control staffing levels has been discussed by councillors throughout the year.

In October, cabinet had agreed to increase the overall number of staff employed to include four new full-time equivalent posts in planning.